Last winter my wife and her friend came up with a plan for our families to travel together for Spring Break. Their idea: A family vacation to sparkling Las Vegas! Yes, the bright light-watchin’, all-night-wakin’, fancy car-driven’, Wayne Newton-singin’ Las Vegas. (To be fair, I actually kind of like Wayne Newton).
I was shocked. For many normal people in America Las Vegas might be considered, well, a little “loud.” For me — a founder of a nature travel company, a guy who heads out into the mountains and woods for a hike or a bike ride every free moment he has — Las Vegas is “supersonic!” But somehow, after 19 years of marriage, my wife figured I’d be into Las Vegas as a family destination.
Danke Schoen, darling. Danke Schoen. Thank you for all the joy and pain.
I was beside myself, though, of course, my sons were thrilled—the 9 year-old in anticipation of the roller coasters, the 12-year old for the girls by the pool. I came up with every excuse in the book: I had meetings scheduled, work to do, soccer games to coach. I even offered a beach vacation instead (and I really, really have a hard time sitting on a beach!). But, no, Vegas it was and I was included.
So off we went, in a two car caravan, driving through some of the most impressive scenery in America, across the snowy white continental divide of the Rockies, through the ancient sea which is now the rust-red Utah wilderness, and along the blackened granite hills slightly shading the vast beautiful nothingness of the Nevada desert. An overnight along the way made the drive to Las Vegas a two-day nature excursion, and a good time was had by all. Races to the top of easy buttes and short-sided soccer games in between cacti made the journey quite fun. Then a stop at a rarely-visited petroglyph added a good five hours before… Las Vegas.
I have no problem hiking through grizzly country, or swimming with beluga whales or taking a walk in the predator-filled Serengeti (though that one is actually pretty stupid!). But for a full week prior to visiting Las Vegas with my family I experienced the sort of anxiety usually reserved for those young folks preparing for a wedding, or for a businessman having to do an important public presentation. At night I itched and scratched, I kicked my blankets and stared at the walls, somehow hoping something would save me and I wouldn’t have to spend four simple days in Las Vegas.
From some of the world’s greatest desolation come the winding highways that lead into Vegas, and the billboards begin and the temperature seems to rise to well over a hundred. As we entered the heart of town – it takes a half hour to get near the heart of town in sprawling Las Vegas – I got more and more nervous, my skin wet and cold like I was back in high school and a teacher was going to make me sit at my desk and listen to a two-hour lecture on calculus: serious pain for a guy like me. Oddly, though I surely felt the pain, the famed strip made my head turn like a cracked out barn owl. To the left was a giant picture of Elton John; to the right a miniature Paris France! A massive roller coaster; New York City with a fake plastic statue of Liberty; a giant fountain—is that where Evil Kneivel jumped a bunch of school busses? – and race cars hanging out of buildings. What is with this place? Not a block without action, not a minute without an event.
Four days of this and, in short, it didn’t kill me. Sure it was fake and silly and I’d much rather take my family to Africa or Costa Rica or Ecuador. Regardless, we had a great time being together and we enjoyed our vacation. Next year, though, I’m hoping maybe we’ll go skiing?
Danke schoen, darling.
Founder & Director
Natural Habitat Adventures